Friday, May 24, 2024

Opinion: The beauty of ugly fruit and vegetables


Misfits Market is coming. It’s a Philadelphia-based subscription service that announced a few weeks ago it’s setting up shop in North Carolina as part of its East Coast expansion plans and will be selling online all over the state. Its product? Misshapen veggies and fruit from farmers who can’t unload it to food fashion-sticklers who shop at say, Harris Teeter or Food Lion. Misfits says a box that will feed two for a week goes for $19, plus $4.50 shipping.

Nothing wrong with it; it’s just, as Misfits says, ugly.

My family would have starved without ugly food.

My mom was a school teacher, violinist and a head-in-the-clouds poetry lover who considered recipes an affront to creativity. Betty Crocker says one egg? Well, that’s good. Two? Even better. Three? You get a chocolate cake that looks like one of those annual mudslides that block Interstate 40 in Haywood County.

“It fell,” she’d explain.

My dad, brother and I adopted an unspoken rule: Don’t eat anything green. You can’t tell if it’s supposed to be.

We lived on a Virginia farm in the home place dating from the 1850s. Locking doors was unthinkable, and six uncles and two aunts came and went unannounced like when they were still kids growing up there. My favorite was Uncle Shorty — real name, Randolph — who owned a filling station in town and, I’m not lying, couldn’t pronounce the letter R. “Hey, Eddie, hand me the wug wench so I can change this tire.” He’d come with his shotgun and beagles to hunt “wabbits.”

One day, my mom left a bowl of days-old leftovers — stale biscuits, gravy, some pinto beans turned fuzzy and slightly chartreuse, along with heaven knows what else — on the kitchen table for me to feed Duffy, my boxer, when I came home from school.

It wasn’t there. When mom got home from teaching, Uncle Shorty came in from the woods and thanked her for leaving lunch for him.

Here’s the bottom line on Misfits, though.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs says we squander about 250 pounds of ugly-but-good food per person per year, worth $1,500 per family.

That’s a lot left to rot in the fields. Paradoxically, food deserts are common, particularly in cities like Raleigh and Charlotte where one in six families is, as the bureaucrats say, “food insecure.”

There’s some good news, though. The department’s Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, near where many garden crops grow, helped salvage more than 100,000 pounds of Tar Heel staples such as beans, potatoes and strawberries in the last three years. The Society of St. Andrew’s gleaning nonprofit also gathers an enormous amount of produce from N.C. farms and delivers it to food banks and soup kitchens. Maybe Misfits will help.

Uncle Shorty would be pleased to know he did his part.

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